European collaborative programmes too often resemble public works projects, more suited to creating jobs than delivering products. The Eurofighter Typhoon programme stands poised to break that mould.

Less than a decade ago, the programme was "meandering", officials acknowledge. Today, a sense of purpose pervades the four-nation effort, generated by the signing of contracts for the production and support of 620 aircraft for Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - contracts with stiff penalties for failure to deliver on time, on cost and to specification.

"The last two years have been spent preparing for production. We have put history behind us and become crisper and more focused," says Brian Phillipson, managing director of Eurofighter, the Munich, Germany-based company formed by partners Alenia, British Aerospace, Casa and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace to manage the programme.

Focus is essential, as Eurofighter signed a fixed-price contract in September 1998 for the first tranche of 148 aircraft. "Production is a big challenge," he acknowledges. "It requires a change of gear. We must get the energy going."

Across the four partner companies and their suppliers, the change of gear is becoming apparent as production starts up. Customer deliveries are still three years away, but first Eurofighter is building five instrumented production-standard aircraft with which to complete flight testing.

With all seven development aircraft now flying, testing is gathering pace. Flight and ground tests have given Eurofighter "huge confidence" in the air vehicle. "All static and fatigue testing is done, and much of the flight envelope is cleared," says Phillipson. "We have no doubts about the configuration."

Substantial avionics flight testing remains to be done, but hardware and software for the initial production configuration is now running in ground rigs and will be flown for almost a year before deliveries begin. "We are fully on target to meet the specification-and aim to deliver more than the initial specification with the first aircraft," he says.

This confidence is echoed by NETMA, the Munich-based NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency, which acts as customer on behalf of the four partner nations. "We are quite sure we will get an aircraft fulfilling the complete specification," says deputy general manager Christian Biener. "Already the engine is better, the airframe is better and most of the equipment is meeting or exceeding the specification."

The first Eurofighters for the air forces of the four partner nations will be delivered in an air-defence configuration, but the full multi-role capability is to be cleared within 18 months of deliveries beginning. Achieving full operational capability on schedule is both contractually required and commercially desirable, as potential export customers are looking for a multi-role aircraft.

Eurofighter was planning for export deliveries beginning in 2005, but with the Typhoon already selected in Greece and shortlisted in Norway, it is looking for ways to accelerate availability. "The four nations are very supportive of exports," Phillipson says. Export capacity is being built into production from the outset.

Production for the four partner nations is set to reach 52 aircraft a year, a respectable rate by today's standards. There will be final assembly lines in each country, but all manufacturing will be sole-sourced to minimise cost. "We are pushing hard to create a virtual company," he says.

After 30 years and 974 aircraft, all produced within fixed-price limits, the three-nation Panavia Tornado programme is the starting point for Eurofighter's mould-breaking. "Most of the people on this programme grew up on the Tornado," Phillipson points out. "They have never known anything other than working on a collaborative programme."

Begun as a follow-on to the Tornado, the Typhoon is emerging as a highly competitive fighter with an export potential which offers the prospect of creating an Airbus-style European competitor in the global combat aircraft market.

Source: Flight International